New art exhibit promotes creativity amid COVID-19

ROCK ’N’ ROLL: More than a dozen artists are featured in the new exhibit, The Last Rock & Roll Art Show, at Push Skate Shop and Gallery. Curator Joshua Marc Levy organized the gathering to help highlight the fragile state of the arts community in Asheville as well as the city’s distinctive rock ’n’ roll character. Artwork, “2020 Vision,” by Ken Vallario

Concert posters and album art make up a significant portion of local artist Joshua Marc Levy’s commissioned work. So when COVID-19 led to the widespread cancellation of tours and local shows, he experienced firsthand the financial strain the industry was under.

“I was thinking intuitively that [the pandemic] might bring a longer break,” he recalls. “And when I started talking to artists, I realized some of them were moving away from [the creative sector].”

In an effort to celebrate and encourage his network of colleagues and friends, Levy proposed a challenge of sorts. Over the course of the past year, he asked 14 North Carolina-based artists and organizations to create an original piece of art as if it were the last work they’d ever make.

“I told them to pretend like it was their ‘desert island’ painting, picture or poster,” he recalls.

The result is The Last Rock & Roll Art Show. Hosted by Push Skate Shop and Gallery, the collection opens Friday, Nov. 12, and runs through Sunday, Jan. 2.

Source of inspiration

Among the group’s participants is Ken Vallario, who began his career as a working artist in 1996. He creates museum-quality paintings that often focus on the human form, science and psychology. Even art novitiates are likely to spot the influence of surrealist Salvador Dalí in Vallario’s richly detailed, dreamlike pieces.

Despite his work not being tied specifically to the music industry, Levy says he reached out to Vallario because the painter’s style feels “very rock ’n’ roll to me.”

Levy also credits Vallario for inspiring the exhibit’s title. When the two first discussed Levy’s proposed group show, Vallario had already announced his decision to close his River Arts District studio after four years in Wedge Studios. According to Levy, Vallario told him he’d still like to participate but declared, “It will be the last one.”

Though he remains active as an artist, Vallario’s video announcement on social media signaled a change in direction, building on his deep interest in technology and nonfungible tokens.

Multiple meanings

Despite the somber source of inspiration, Levy says that The Last Rock & Roll Art Show is an optimistic homage to other last-but-not-really-last endeavors.

He laughs and suggests that in art, as with popular music, “There’s always a sequel. How many times has KISS retired? They always come back!”

But the exhibit’s name also underscores the financial vulnerability local creatives often face, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic. According to this year’s Asheville Area Arts Council arts impact survey, Buncombe County’s creative sector reported a loss of over $23 million between March 2020 and February 2021.

“The art scene has really suffered over this period,” Levy says.

Different perspectives

The majority of the show’s participants are known for their visual contributions within the arts and music communities. But a few are more directly tied to the latter, including Statesville-based musician Matt Walsh.

“While I’m not known for my paintings, I’ve been drawing and painting since I was a kid,” he explains. He says his work for the upcoming exhibit displays his longtime fascination with werewolves.

SHOWRUNNER: Joshua Marc Levy takes a break inside his studio. “My studio floor is a forever-changing work of art,” he says. Photo by Amy Kayln Sims

Other artists like Vallario are confronting personal struggles brought about during the pandemic. Vallario describes his featured piece, “2020 Vision,” as “a conscious meditation on mortality, a memento mori.”

Vallario continues that in the early days of COVID-19, he realized that pandemic-related stress would bring about societal transformation. “I wanted to make a painting to mark time,” he explains.

Along with Vallario, Levy and Walsh, The Last Rock & Roll Art Show roster includes Fian Arroyo, Wayne Bernstein, Jerry Cahill, Phil Cheney, Matt Decker, Stuart Engel, John Root, David Simchock, Slow Poison, Scott Sturdy and Subject Matter Studio.

And while none of the featured artists have officially announced a complete break from the creative sphere, the “last” tag in the exhibit’s name serves as a cautionary reminder of the economic peril many creatives face and what the ongoing struggle could result in.

Levy says that he hopes those who view the show come away inspired to create their own art; he also hopes patrons will consider purchasing available prints that several of the participating makers will have on sale.

“It’s going to be mind-blowing,” he promises.

And despite the show’s title, he is confident a follow-up will take place. Granted, he says, “it might be a few years before the next one.”

WHAT: The Last Rock & Roll Art Show
WHERE: Push Skate Shop and Gallery, 25 Patton Ave.,
WHEN: Friday, Nov. 12, through Sunday, Jan. 2 (Sunday-Thursday, noon-5 p.m., Friday-Saturday, noon-7 p.m.), free


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About Bill Kopp
Author, music journalist, historian, collector, and musician. His first book, "Reinventing Pink Floyd: From Syd Barrett to The Dark Side of the Moon," published by Rowman & Littlefield, is available now. Follow me @the_musoscribe

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